We all love to focus our attention on the incoming freshman class, and for good reason; most years the top of the NBA Draft is made up of one-and-done stars. But not every future star is ready to declare for the draft after one year (some good things take time), and staying an extra year or two, or three in school is the best path to NBA success for many prospects.
The following 10 players are returning for their sophomore seasons and, although they don’t get a ton of draft buzz, I think they are primed for breakout seasons that will put them in the 2024 NBA Draft conversation.
Some of these guys will end up in the 2024 draft, some will stay in school longer. But I think they are all deserving of more national attention – and this year they’ll start to show why.
Bruce Thornton – PG – Ohio State – They don’t make many players tougher than Bruce Thornton. At 6-2 and at least 215lbs he’s built more like a football player than a basketball player but this strength and bulk serves him well on the basketball court. He’s able to body-up on defense and defend multiple positions, despite not having great height. He’s not the most productive play-maker on defense but don’t let the steals or blocks numbers fool you; he’s a big time defender who really impacts that end of the floor.
On the offensive end Thornton is a tough and physical driver who seeks out contact and is a creative finisher. He gets to where he wants on the court and does a good job of running the offense. He’s also a very capable perimeter shooter, hitting over 37% from 3pt land and showing good touch from mid range. He’s a warrior and a leader on the court who has the respect of his teammates. I think he’ll be star in college basketball this year.
Felix Okpara – C – Ohio State (Nigeria) – Thornton’s teammate is also on the breakout watch. I’m such a massive Okpara fan and think he deserves a lot more attention and hype. Last year as a freshman he played only 15 minutes per game but still managed to block 1.3 shots per game and I think he’s got a chance to be one of the best shot-blockers in college basketball this year. He also shot 58% from the field, mostly on lobs, dunks, put-backs and dives to the rim.
He’s a springy and lengthy 6-11 center who definitely moves like a NBA player. He’ll never be a first option offensive guy but he has a big impact on defense and on the boards – and whatever offense he provides is a cherry on top. I could see Okpara getting some draft buzz this year as the season goes on, although he could be more of a 2025 draft prospect.
Dillon Mitchell – SF/PF – Texas – After some hot and heavy flirting with the 2023 NBA Draft Mitchell chose to return to Texas for year two; a wise decision in my book. There’s absolutely no doubt about his physical tools and athleticism but the skillset was very raw last year.
I’m fascinated to see how the various aspects of his game have developed over the off-season. Will he have the confidence to take some outside shots this year? Can he hit his free throws? Even if the shooting doesn’t develop I still think he gets drafted off of tools alone, but if he shows signs of improved ball skills he could be a big riser on draft boards. He’s a high level rebounder and a monster in transition, and has a lot of intrigue on the defensive end. He’s the type of athlete NBA teams like to bet on as a high upside developmental player.
Ugonna Kingsley (Nigeria) – C – Kentucky – After flirting with the transfer portal Kingsley decided to stay at Kentucky where he’ll form an intimidating frontcourt duo with incoming freshman Aaron Bradshaw and international recruit Zvonimir Ivisic. Kingsley is recovering from a broken foot suffered in July, a serious injury for any player but especially a big man, but all signs point to him recovering in time to have an impact this year, perhaps even near the beginning of the year.
When healthy Kingsley is one of the most impressive athletes you’ll ever see for a 7-footer. While his game is still developing his tools are elite, and after a full season of development in Lexington he should be in line for bigger minutes and bigger performances in 2023/24. He’s another intriguing shot-blocking big who could take some more time (maybe he’s more of a 2025 prospect like Okpara) but I definitely see the NBA in his future. Fingers crossed that he returns quickly and stays healthy.
Ernest Udeh Jr. – C – TCU – The Kansas transfer is in line for a lot of minutes and production this year for the Horned Frogs, after seeing only 8 minutes of playing time per game his freshman season in Lawrence.
Udeh Jr. is a colossally strong and powerful 6-11, 260lb center who moves people down low. He’s got good feet and balance and is overpowering at the college level. His game isn’t exactly a great fit in the modern NBA, as he’s mostly a banger in the paint who will earn his living rebounding and throwing his weight around, but I think he has a chance to develop into a NBA player even if the floor spacing and offensive feel doesn’t come along.
He might be a multi-year college player and I’m all here for it. I love watching his old school power game and can’t wait to see him in a TCU uniform starting next month.
Dylan Andrews – PG – UCLA – After Jaylen Clarke got injured in March of last year Andrews filled in admirably and showed flashes of how good he can be. This year the UCLA team is stacked with talent, much of it coming from overseas, but I think Andrews will have an important role and could start getting the attention of the draft community, even while being surrounded by so many other good players. At 6-3 he’s got ok size for a lead guard and also showed the ability to play off the ball and hit open shots on the wing. He’s a pesky defender with quick hands and is a high effort player. He’s likely to be a 2025 or 2026 prospect but is one to keep an eye on.
Rylan Griffin – SG – Alabama – Griffin is a long and rangy 6-6 guard who glides up and down the court and gets above the rim with ease. He moves well without the ball and has a nice feel for cutting and finding the opening in the defense. He’s a capable shot-maker but is at his best getting downhill and attacking the rim. He showed flashes in 15 minutes per game as a freshman and is now poised for a break out sophomore campaign. If the outside shot pans out Griffin could start getting a lot of attention in NBA draft circles.
Alex Karaban – SF/PF – UConn – Karaban is a big, sweet-shooting combo forward with a great feel for the game and a big impact on the court, even when he’s not scoring the ball. He played a big role as a freshman for the national champion Huskies, logging nearly 29 minutes per game and putting up great shooting numbers of 47/40/80. He’s a heady defender who has enough strength to bang in the paint but might struggle staying in front of NBA wings. He’s got a good all around game but it’ll be his outside shot that gets him on a NBA floor. You could say he already had his break out campaign last year (true) but look for him to take another step this year and start showing up on draft boards.
Mark Armstrong – PG – Villanova – 6-2 guards are not en vogue in the NBA but Armstrong has enough athleticism and talent that he could overcome his lack of height. He’s a much better outside shooter than the numbers indicate and I imagine his 3pt percentage will take a big jump up this season. While Armstrong could get some draft hype this year I’d bet that he stays in school at least through next year, honing his talents and developing his all around game, as most Villanova players do.
Tre White – SG – Louisville – After transferring from USC, White should get a lot of run this year for the Cardinals and is one to watch as a breakout candidate. He’s a fundamentally sound and highly skilled big guard who plays a winning game. I really like his competitiveness, fire and decision-making on the court. At 6-7 he’s got the size to guard 1 through 3 and has versatility on both ends of the floor. His 3pt shooting will have to improve (26% as a freshman) and could be his swing skill. As with some of the other players on this list White could get some buzz this year but is more likely a candidate for the 2025 draft.